Managing Family Life Online in 2021

Lynette Owens
March 2, 2021

After a year of navigating a pandemic, it is difficult to dispute that the internet is an important tool in our families’ lives. We have needed it more than ever – to connect us, entertain us, and support us as we keep our families and communities safe and stay home.  We were also obligated to use it in new, temporary ways, whether to attend school remotely or work from home.  But that increased dependence has been fraught with anxiety, guilt or exasperation for many families.  As we adjusted to the changes, we adopted new routines and rules in our homes, striking some equilibrium between the time we spend online and off.  

In 2021 we will hopefully see glimpses of life after this pandemic.  But will you go back to things exactly as they were before?  No matter how your family’s relationship with the internet has changed over the last 12 months, the start of a new year is a great time to reflect on the lessons learned and the impact on the year ahead.

Internet Use Surge

The numbers proved that the internet saw the biggest rise in use in its history during the first few months of last year, with services such as video chats, video streaming, and gaming services growing by double digits.  Behind these numbers are the ways in which so many of us adopted new ways of using the internet to weather the year to come.  Perhaps you signed up for a new streaming service to enjoy with your family every week.  Maybe your kids took advantage of co-viewing services on Disney+ or Amazon Prime as a way to replace going to the movies with friends.  Maybe you made Zoom gatherings or FaceTime chats a regular occurrence to stay connected to far off family or friends.  Will you continue these rituals in the future?

Perhaps you simply let screen time become a bigger part of your family’s life as you made that tradeoff with keeping them home and safe.  If so, did you change any of your rules or use any tools to ensure that screen time was safe and positive?  Were they changes worth keeping?

Models of Work and School

If you were fortunate enough to work from home and had not done it previously, it maybe a new way of life that sticks.  While 16.4% of us were already permanently working from home prior to the pandemic, that number is set to double to 34.4% this year according to Enterprise Technology Research and who knows how that trend might look in the future. The promise of hybrid work from home models may be around the corner, with 82% of company leaders indicating they would adopt a mix of working on site and remote as a common practice.  If given the choice, would you remain in a work from home model, go back to the office full-time, or take advantage of the flexibility of a hybrid model?

The last year also showed us that children have had vastly different experiences in school. The National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard in the U.S. has consistently shown these variations, with 56% of schools adopting a hybrid model, 29% in-person, and 15% remote as of mid-December.  Remote and hybrid models have challenged families the most, especially when physical space, good connectivity, and other supports are limited.  It is widely believed that younger children benefit from in-person school experiences and all children need social interaction for their well-being. But some children are actually thriving in remote or hybrid models, particularly those who are introverts or self-directed and independent.  How will we take the best of what we have learned about these multiple models of school and institutionalize them in the future?

In all cases, children’s internet use is generally still much higher than a year ago as the activities that would have occupied their time after school or on weekends have been unavailable and children are home much more.  For so many of our kids, social media and gaming services have filled that void. Once they can all return to school in-person and engage in other in-person activities, how will you recalibrate the time they spend online and off?

Taking Stock and Letting Go

We are at the mid-point of a school year and in the next phase of our fight to put this pandemic behind us.  We may still need to continue what we’re doing for a little while longer, but now is a great time to consider your family’s relationship with the internet and how or if it might change in the future.  Consider the habits and behaviors that have been beneficial to nurturing relationships with your children, relatives, and friends. Talk to your kids about their experience learning new uses of technology for school, socializing, or entertainment.  Reflect on how the internet may have actually made your life easier in ways you had not taken advantage of before.  Use the time ahead to make the post-pandemic transition as smooth as possible.   Hold on to those things that made life better for your family this past year and let go of everything else when the time comes.

For more information about our Internet Safety for Kids and Families Program, free parent events and free resources, please visit: internetsafety.trendmicro.com.

Written by

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program with the mission of helping kids around the world become great digital citizens. Founded in 2008, the program has now reached over 2.5 million students, parents and teachers in 20 countries.

With over 25 years of experience in the technology industry, Lynette regularly speaks, blogs and works with communities and school districts around the world. She has helped build a global force of hundreds of employee volunteers and a network of collaborations with NGOs, technology companies, schools, government and law enforcement organizations to make online safety, digital citizenship, and media literacy education a priority for every child.

Lynette holds a B.S. from Boston College and an M.B.A from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a board member of the National Association of Media Literacy Education, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day. She is a mother of two, wife of one, tireless pro-youth, pro-tech advocate and believer that the impact of technology on society is completely in our hands.

Twitter: @lynettetowens

Web: internetsafety.trendmicro.com